Hywind Tampen wind farm in the North Sea (for illustration purposes); Source: Equinor

Exclusive interview: Letting energy growth spring free with AI as key to sorting out challenges in oil & gas and renewables

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Hywind Tampen wind farm in the North Sea (for illustration purposes); Source: Equinor

As countries around the globe speed up their evolution, artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming an integral part of daily life across a wide range of disciplines, including the energy landscape. What lies ahead for oil, gas, and renewable energy in the AI-oriented environment and how will these sources of supply be revolutionized? What role will AI play in the decarbonization game and can it up the energy transition ante?

Bringing the benefits of AI to oil, gas, renewable energy, and decarbonization technologies is perceived to be a crucial tool in the energy industry’s arsenal to unleash new growth in the offshore energy industry and reach net zero aspirations, according to Kumar Narayanan, Vice President (VP) & Head of Energy & Resources for Americas at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), a part of the Tata Group, which is said to be India’s largest multinational business group.

Aiming to help businesses transform through technology, TCS has a proactive stance on climate change, earning a place in leading sustainability indices such as the MSCI Global Sustainability Index and the FTSE4Good Emerging Index. The company has worked with many international players, including Italy’s Saipem, and offshore drilling giants, such as Seadrill, which hired the firm in 2019 to transform and maintain its onshore and offshore digital infrastructure.

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Narayanan, currently focused on digital engineering and sustainability within the energy and resource sector, has an MBA in Business Administration and Management from PSG College of Technology.

Kumar Narayanan, VP & Head
of Energy & Resources
for Americas at TCS

With over 30 years of total experience under his belt, out of which 28 have been spent with TCS, Narayanan has held several different management roles, including Country Director for TCS in Singapore and France, Client Partner for a large banking relationship in NA, Global Head of sales and solutions for the Intelligent Automation practice and now the Head of Energy & Resources for Americas.

From digital twin technology to robotics and many other innovations in the AI toolbox, Narayanan was adamant during our interview that artificial intelligence was affecting all things not just in the oil and gas industry but also in green and clean energy departments.

He believes that AI deployment can have a real impact on all energy players, helping them tackle current headwinds and woes while also giving them the tools to meet their climate goals.

  • OE: No one can deny that AI is reshaping the fossil fuel industry’s landscape while also optimizing the supply chain. Aside from giving operators insight into the value of specific reservoirs and customizing drilling and completion plans, AI is also often used for offshore maintenance. With so many diverse applications at the oil and gas industry’s disposal, could you tell us more about the benefits of AI deployment across the industry?

Kumar Narayanan: AI will be one of the most important technologies for the petroleum industry in the next several years. You will see AI agents assisting human geoscientists in exploring new frontiers not open to us today. AI will assist human operators in upstream, midstream, and downstream to operate wells and plants at much higher levels of efficiency than can be imagined today resulting in lower-cost energy and products for consumers.

AI will help solve the sustainability problems in the petroleum industry by reducing emissions and discovering new processes. Every aspect of the petroleum industry will benefit from the deployment of AI.

  • OE: How can AI assist fossil energy companies in optimizing production and overall operations? Can AI help operators to slash project costs and improve overall safety?

Kumar Narayanan: AI will accomplish this in myriad ways. Two of the most important are as follows. First, it will allow greater precision in operations. As control systems become more pervasive and more intelligent wells, refineries, LNG plants, and retail operations will all be able to operate at much higher levels of efficiency and productivity.

For example, more precise control in refineries can result in a higher product yield per barrel. An improvement of as little as 1% delivers millions in savings and an improved carbon footprint. Secondly, in the area of safety, AI will make truly autonomous robots possible, allowing a vision of unmanned facilities – which the industry has been pursuing for decades – to become reality. The best way to keep workers safe is to remove them from hazardous conditions, and AI will finally allow this.

  • OE: What are the biggest challenges for artificial intelligence suppliers in the oil and gas industry?

Kumar Narayanan: Perhaps the biggest challenge faced by AI players in this space is the ability to create solution ecosystems. No one supplier can provide all the technology knowledge, oil and gas industry know-how, and the skills to bring AI to life in solutions that deliver real value. Fortunately, TCS has the structural approach through our long-established Co-Innovation Networks – ‘COIN’ – as we call them, that allow customers, TCS, academic institutions, independent researchers, and start-up entrepreneurs to work together to deliver oil and gas solutions that are deeply contextualized.

Algorithms, hardware, AI platforms, oil and gas engineering knowledge may all come from different members of the COIN, but they come together in a single solution, such as daily refinery mass balance, or refined product distribution command centers, all powered by AI.

  • OE: Since AI has proven to be a useful tool in monitoring offshore oil and gas infrastructure, how can operators unlock its full potential?

Kumar Narayanan: The next movement in offshore development is in the deployment of AI in edge computing devices. Even with the power of 5G and IoT technology, some operational tasks are subject to latency issues. By the time data and commands are transmitted from the seabed to the platform and then back to the shore base and onto the cloud, things can change very rapidly.

In-situ devices with embedded cooperative AI can allow technology to be driven deeper literally and figuratively offshore. Deep sea autonomous submersibles are one specific example where TCS is at work. The next generation of seabed control devices will also have AI working ‘at the edge.’

  • OE: What is coming up next on the AI horizon for oil and gas operations?

Kumar Narayanan: AI co-workers will soon be empowering operations engineers and crews both in plant and remote field settings. Already AI applications are being developed as a part of Agile Minimum Viable Products (MVPs) and delivered in handheld devices and smart helmets. The ability of AI engines to rapidly survey operational and maintenance histories and then recommend solutions to operational problems can reduce or eliminate unplanned downtime and speed the return to service in all cases.

AI engines become the glue that allows every operator to operate every well or plant, sharing experience and applying talent across multiple assets. In the near future, every piece of equipment on a well or facility will be considered ‘smart’ – that is to say, empowered by embedded AI.

  • OE: Will AI innovations push the decarbonization of oil and gas assets forward?

Kumar Narayanan: Decarbonizing the hydrocarbon industry will be impossible without AI. Today cognitive AI engines are at work optimizing operations with complex dashboards that now include sustainability, in addition to safety and efficiency.

In the near future, AI generative engines will suggest generative well and facility designs that have lower carbon footprints both in construction and operation. Achieving sustainability long-term is a learning journey, a continuing process of ‘learn better, do better.’ Therefore adaptive, learning technology – such as AI – will be essential on this journey.

  • OE: Is AI one of the key tools in the energy transition toolbox for oil and gas players?

Kumar Narayanan: Yes, AI plays a very important role in the energy transition. One emerging area that is not often thought about is the role generative AI will play in future products such as advanced materials. As less petroleum is used for transportation, more hydrocarbon will be available for making advanced materials.

Amazingly enough, the overall carbon footprint of carbon fiber material is lower than the overall carbon footprint of aluminum. AI generative platforms will suggest the formulation and manufacturing of these new advanced materials similar to the way they have been used to design new drugs. This will include evaluating the sustainability impact of these suggested materials.

  • OE: Digital twin technology is very popular in the oil and gas industry, however, it is also being adopted for assets in other energy sectors, like renewables. Do you expect this trend to continue in the future? Can you tell us a bit more about this?

Kumar Narayanan: Digital Twin technology has already proven extremely valuable in all segments of the energy industry – across electric power, renewables, and the entire oil and gas value chain. This trend will expand as digital twins become richer in content and broader in scope.

They have grown from modeling pieces of equipment to units in a refinery, to entire plants – and now to delivery systems for inbound crude and outbound product. In the near future, digital twins will become the virtual marketplace where human and AI co-workers meet each other to operate complex assets and solve problems. The potential is huge.

  • OE: AI-powered robots are increasingly used in the oil and gas industry for various tasks. Should we expect to see more innovations in this regard?

Kumar Narayanan: More innovations in robotics based on AI are underway. First of all, AI is enabling robots to move beyond simple tasks to make elemental decisions in the field. For example, a robotic drone may alter its mission to make another pass over a pipeline section if it detects methane in the onboard analysis of digital imaging.

Secondly, AI is essential for making robots more autonomous, allowing them to venture into depths or spaces where a tethered robot cannot easily go. Finally, AI enables the human operator to shift from controlling the robot to being a true collaborator, allowing the two to work together.

  • OE: Do you expect to see further growth in the AI market offering for the oil and gas industry? If so, which AI services are bound to be in high demand this decade and up to 2050? Can you tell us a bit more about the regions where AI will be in high demand?

Kumar Narayanan: As the challenges faced by the oil and gas industry continue to grow, so will the demand for AI-related services. Three key areas may be the most important among a variety. These are technology deployment, data services, and cybersecurity. Technology deployment will be complex as rapidly changing technology will require a constant ebb and flow of scale-up, scale-out, and rapid replacement. Data services will be key.

Oil and gas have a variety of very domain-intensive types of data, sometimes with high volume and density. If the cybersecurity issue is not addressed proactively, it could drastically slow down the deployment of AI technology and impair the performance of the business. Demand for AI services is seen as a global market rather than a regional one. In fact, in frontier markets, demand may be higher to allow newer developments to leapfrog existing assets.

  • OE: As the energy industry continues to evolve during the race to net zero, will there be a greater interest in the AI suite of services in the renewables and low-carbon sections of the global energy transition puzzle?

Kumar Narayanan: In renewable wind energy, the output of an individual wind turbine unit has grown some 60 times in the last seven years while the cost of that unit has fallen by a factor of ten. AI has helped achieve this by aiding in the design of the unit and its materials and providing tuning algorithms to help the unit operate more effectively.

Soon, AI-based scheduling tools will be helping system operators better integrate all kinds of renewables – wind, solar, tidal – into the operations of the overall electric power grid. In essence, AI and renewables are growing up together. They will continue to develop and complement each other in the new energy world.

  • OE: Thank you for this interview! Is there anything you would like to add?

Kumar Narayanan: Perhaps the most exciting developments for both AI and the oil and gas industry still lie in the future. We will be operating four miles beneath the ocean. We will be increasing the number of 100-year-old oil fields every year, thanks to digital operations. We will create the petroleum-based advanced materials that will take us farther into space, and make humans an interplanetary species.

So far, the emphasis in oil and gas AI has been on solving problems we already know about. Things get really exciting when AI enables humans and machines to collaborate to solve problems neither of us could solve merely by ourselves.

The zest for AI solutions has also left its stamp on the maritime industry, as the global shipping players enjoy the fruits of digitalization, IT technology, and automation. An example of this, known far and wide across the maritime industry, is the IBM-sponsored Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS400) that started its transatlantic journey in June 2021 from Turnchapel Wharf, Plymouth, UK.

One of the recent examples related to the use of an AI suite of offerings for the maritime industry comes from South Korea’s HD Korea Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering (HD KSOE), which brought to life the world’s first ship equipped with an ‘AI engineer.’

This AI-based engine automation solution was installed onboard H-Line Shipping’s colossal 180,000-ton LNG-powered bulk carrier to operate in real-time and diagnose critical ship equipment’s condition while swiftly detecting emergencies, including fires.

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HD Korea Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering tucked a milestone in automated navigation under its belt in June 2022 when Avikus carried out autonomous navigation of a large LNG carrier across the ocean, becoming the first company to do so.

At the start of 2024, HD Hyundai Heavy Industries joined forces with Finland’s NAPA and CADMATIC to speed up the digital transformation of the shipbuilding industry, harnessing advanced 3D models and the latest developments in information management technology to create intelligent solutions that support the entire shipbuilding process.

This undertaking is anticipated to enable HD Hyundai Heavy Industries to usher in its vision of a “digital shipyard,” where smart data and digital twins support the optimization of the design process from the early stages to construction and production while also providing a valuable source of information throughout the ship’s lifetime at sea.


𝐃𝐨 𝐲𝐨𝐮 𝐰𝐚𝐧𝐭 𝐭𝐨 𝐠𝐫𝐚𝐛 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐚𝐭𝐭𝐞𝐧𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧 𝐨𝐟 𝐲𝐨𝐮𝐫 𝐭𝐚𝐫𝐠𝐞𝐭 𝐚𝐮𝐝𝐢𝐞𝐧𝐜𝐞 𝐢𝐧 𝐨𝐧𝐞 𝐦𝐨𝐯𝐞? 𝐋𝐨𝐨𝐤 𝐧𝐨 𝐟𝐮𝐫𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐫 𝐭𝐡𝐚𝐧 𝐎𝐟𝐟𝐬𝐡𝐨𝐫𝐞 𝐄𝐧𝐞𝐫𝐠𝐲! 𝐎𝐮𝐫 𝐜𝐨𝐧𝐭𝐞𝐧𝐭 𝐢𝐬 𝐫𝐞𝐚𝐝 𝐛𝐲 𝐭𝐡𝐨𝐮𝐬𝐚𝐧𝐝𝐬 𝐨𝐟 𝐩𝐫𝐨𝐟𝐞𝐬𝐬𝐢𝐨𝐧𝐚𝐥𝐬 𝐞𝐧𝐠𝐚𝐠𝐞𝐝 𝐢𝐧 𝐨𝐢𝐥 & 𝐠𝐚𝐬, 𝐦𝐚𝐫𝐢𝐭𝐢𝐦𝐞, 𝐨𝐟𝐟𝐬𝐡𝐨𝐫𝐞 𝐰𝐢𝐧𝐝, 𝐠𝐫𝐞𝐞𝐧 𝐦𝐚𝐫𝐢𝐧𝐞, 𝐡𝐲𝐝𝐫𝐨𝐠𝐞𝐧, 𝐬𝐮𝐛𝐬𝐞𝐚, 𝐦𝐚𝐫𝐢𝐧𝐞 𝐞𝐧𝐞𝐫𝐠𝐲, 𝐚𝐥𝐭𝐞𝐫𝐧𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐯𝐞 𝐟𝐮𝐞𝐥𝐬, 𝐬𝐡𝐢𝐩𝐩𝐢𝐧𝐠, 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐨𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐫 𝐢𝐧𝐝𝐮𝐬𝐭𝐫𝐢𝐞𝐬 𝐨𝐧 𝐚 𝐝𝐚𝐢𝐥𝐲 𝐛𝐚𝐬𝐢𝐬.

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